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Breaking down news: Wiki wrath and post-Hitler Trump

The post-truth landscape just saw Wikipedia ban Daily Mail as a reference source and the first, inevitable signs of a Trump-Hitler comparison.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal |
February 11, 2017 1:33:32 am

The volunteer editors of Wikipedia constitute a fine example of the decentralised hive mind which the world will slowly come around to trusting, now that the political central nervous systems which run nation states are fraying at the synapses. And in their collective wisdom, these editors have banned the UK’s Daily Mail as a source of reference, on account of its “reputation for poor fact checking, sensationalism and flat-out fabrication”.

Wikipedia is a notable resister of post-truth, where the validity of facts is negotiated 24×7 by decentralised, open source editing. When the site launched in 2001, the world expected these editors to haul the site off hand over fist into the realm of mystery and imagination, but it has established a reputation as one of the most trustworthy repositories. And if they choose to abhor the imaginative exuberance of some journalism venues, we cannot complain. The Daily Mail remains a great entertainer, as always.

One more senior official of the Trump administration is trying to push the world even poster-truth than the laws of universe permit. Trump campaign boss Kellyanne Conway had already gained lifetime fame with her references to a “Bowling Green massacre” which never happened. This week, White House press guy Sean Spicer joined ranks with her to allude to another outrage which never happened, executed by foreign devils who never existed. He referred to terror attacks in Atlanta three times in a week but, as CNN was quick to point out, the last high-profile attack there was conducted by abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, a white right-winger home-grown in Florida and discharged from the army for the trivial crime of smoking pot. He was taken into custody 21 years ago. A garbled version of America’s security history seems to afflict Trump’s team, which the Washington Post calls “the gang that can’t shoot straight”. Not just in body copy, but in a headline. American editors are having great fun with headlines these days. Last week, a front page New York Times headline had called the president a liar.

Spicer, whose job is mainly to defend the government when it makes itself ridiculous, is being trolled in a novel way on Venmo, a PayPal app which helps people pay and receive money, like when they split a restaurant bill. Some are donating him money to fund a hair transplant. Some are asking him for donations to buy anxiety medication because Spicer’s boss Trump “is a lunatic”. This is a public backlash to Spicer’s defence of Trump’s first hit job in the Middle East, a botched-up operation in Yemen in which a Navy SEAL was killed. Spicer’s argument: to question the operation would be to disrespect a dead soldier. We are quite used to this line, and it is interesting to learn that many Americans fall for the same rubbish.

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So many comparisons are being made between us and them that Sadanand Dhume has tried to discover what people really think with the most reliable device at hand — the internet poll. His question: What do you make of the argument that Narendra Modi and Donald Trump are similar? Available choices: “Obviously true” and “utterly false”. No grey areas here. No scope for black humour, either.

Meanwhile, in the American media, comparisons between the US under Trump and Germany under its most notorious chancellor, Hitler, are being seriously examined. The most remarkable work is journalist, researcher and author Ron Rosenbaum’s article titled “Against Normalisation” in the Los Angeles Review of Books, in which he draws on his own 1998 bestseller, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil. Rosenbaum had travelled and interviewed all over Europe for it, and remains one of the people who can explain why it is easy to mistake the arrival of a fascist government as a transient period of political buffoonery. Rosenbaum goes to the extent of saying that the drama playing out in America follows a script written in German: Mein Kampf.

In particular, Rosenbaum points to the relations between fascist leaders and the media, recalling the case of the Munich Post, about which Hitler had a persecution complex, and which was trashed by Nazi thugs in the course of the Beer Hall Putsch. It had had a running battle with Hitler for years, but it was forgotten until Rosenbaum found some issues in a library.This paper first reported that Hitler proposed a Final Solution — at that time, restricted to the Jews of Munich. Indeed, given that Mein Kampf had clearly outlined what Hitler wished to do about Jews, the economy, restrictive treaties and the imperative of Lebensraum in the east, it is amazing that his chancellorship was not bitterly resisted. Even the Americans were betting on him. Now, they find solace in Saturday Night Live, where Steve Bannon appears as the Grim Reaper and helps Trump prepare the world for war. With fightin’ words.

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